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State gets tough with traveling crews

3/31/00

By Mike DuPré/Gazette Staff

Preventing, rather than reacting to, another multiple-death van crash and exploitation of children is the aim of several measures announced here Thursday by James Doyle, Wisconsin attorney general.

Doyle has established a state response team to work with local law enforcement agencies when out-of-state sales crews bring young people to communities to sell magazines door to door.

Local police and sheriff's departments can contact the Wisconsin Department of Justice, and special agents from the department's Division of Criminal Investigation and assistant attorneys general will be available to help investigate and prosecute cases involving traveling sales crews, Doyle said.

Doyle's proposals are designed to prevent tragedies like the March 1999 van crash near Janesville in which seven young magazine sellers were killed. The state on Thursday filed 13 felony charges against YES, the company that used young people to sell magazine subscriptions.

''It's extremely important to get on top of these type of sales crews early on so we don't find out about the practices until after a terrible tragedy occurs," Doyle said. "We will let them know that law enforcement is looking at them from the moment they step in this state. ...

"What we're looking for here is nothing fancy. We're just trying to get ahead of this issue. This is having law enforcement move this to a significant priority. At the state level, we're the ones who have to do it because they might be in Janesville one day, Waukesha County the next and Marathon County the next."

Doyle also is proposing new laws to change state regulations relating to companies employing juveniles in street trades. The package, he said, will include provisions to better prevent the exploitation of juveniles selling magazines door to door and to ensure that they receive adequate food, shelter, supervision, fair wages and safe transportation.

Doyle also will seek to increase state penalties for child labor law violations.

Citing laws protecting migrant workers, the attorney general said: "Wisconsin should be the first state to legislate for the safety of child workers."

He hopes the Legislature will give the bills "the utmost priority," and he anticipates bipartisan support for the measures.

"Hopefully, new laws will make it extremely difficult and extremely not profitable to bring children into this state and exploit them," Doyle said. "We must commit ourselves to stopping similar tragedies in this state."

One of the biggest problems with itinerant sales crews is that they are itinerant. They could avoid Wisconsin entirely if the state's laws are too tough.

Congress should act on the issue on a national scale, Doyle said.

Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl, a Democrat from Milwaukee, has introduced legislation, the Traveling Sales Crew Protection Act, that would prohibit hiring minors for traveling sales work, establish a licensing procedure for such operations and eliminate some of the exemptions from wage and overtime laws that traveling sales operations have.

Thursday, Kohl congratulated Doyle for bringing the charges.

Kohl also expressed hope that Congress would pass his legislation "so that we can shut down these sham operations before more homicide charges need to be brought. My legislation will keep kids out of this dangerous business."



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